There was an excited buzz before Saturday night's performance of the Chamber Music Festival of Lexington at the Fasig-Tipton Pavilion for a couple reasons.
Many of the patrons had attended the first concert on Friday and were still entranced by that night's program. Adding to their anticipation of Saturday's performance was the scheduled world premiere of Daniel Kellogg's Look Up at the Sky, the fourth world premiere in the festival's five-year history.
The anticipation was well placed, with a concert that built on the strength of Friday's performance and offered the audience a well-performed variety of music.
The premiere of Kellogg's Look Up at the Sky opened the second half, preceded by the composer's short speech about writing the piece in response to having read Antoine de St.-Exupéry's The Little Prince to his 5-year-old daughter. Indeed, the musical texture made up primarily of trills and scales does capture a sound world of stars and sky and the thrill of flying. Composed for piano and string quintet, the piece is accessible, if perhaps too slight. There is enough musical material there to expand the piece substantially, or maybe to add other movements. The enthusiastic audience response bodes well for Kellogg's next world premiere in Lexington on Feb. 17, an orchestral work for the Lexington Philharmonic as part of a joint commission with the Chamber Music Festival.
Pianist Alessio Bax began the program with a lovely piano transcription of Bach's chorale Sheep May Safely Graze by Egon Petri. Bax's beautiful voicing of the various melodic lines was a prominent feature of his music-making throughout the evening. His silky playing of the main theme in thirds wove in and out of the chorale tune, which he rendered with a gorgeous singing tone, employing judicious moments of rubato to stretch one melody or the other expressively. He maintained a restful composure throughout the tranquil piece despite a number of noisy audience distractions.
Next, the festival's director, violinist Nathan Cole, joined Bax for an effective performance of Ferruccio Busoni's Violin Sonata No. 2. In the slow first movement, one might have wanted Cole to play with more post-Romantic flair, to arch the long phrases more expressively. But his warm, elegant sound complemented Bax's poetic, impassioned approach to the music. Their ensemble playing in the exciting Presto movement was thrillingly accurate, and Bax especially found a remarkable range of colors throughout the variations on a theme of Bach, which make up the final movement.
The string quintet musicians who played the Kellogg premiere — violinists Cole and Celeste Golden-Boyer, violist Burchard Tang, cellist Priscilla Lee and double bassist Joseph Conyers — ended the program with a superb reading of Dvorák's Quintet No. 2. Golden-Boyer played the first violin part rhapsodically, leading the ensemble in a passionate performance, especially in the sublime slow movement. Conyers played with a beautifully rich double bass tone, and his relaxed stage presence and interaction with the other players were enjoyable. Lee also summoned sumptuous sounds from her cello.
The Chamber Music Festival of Lexington has become a prominent attraction in the region's cultural calendar because of excellent performances by young professional musicians and fresh programming such as it has displayed this year. It warms the heart to think that Cole, a world-class musician from Lexington who has just been named the associate concertmaster of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, has found this way to "give back."
After Saturday's performance, it's exciting to anticipate what his innovative leadership of this festival will bring us in the future.